Did sexism sink Julia Gillard?

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IS Julia Gillard a victim of sexism? Was she singled out by the misogynists for special treatment? Is this the reason that she had such awful numbers in the opinion polls that her party sacked her?

Former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Her feminist supporters have no doubt that the answer is overwhelmingly “yes”. I’m not so sure. I suspect the reality is much more deeply rooted in our social structure.

Regular readers will recall that recently I put the case for the re-election of the Labor Government based on its obvious achievements in health, education, the economy, foreign policy and pricing carbon.

To my astonishment the column went “viral” and scored 34,000 hits. And the commentary that followed was overwhelmingly supportive.

Clearly there is a body of opinion that supports the Government’s policies. Indeed, on the specific issues – apart from boat people – the Government far outpolls the Opposition. But at the same time the polls showed that a majority did not support their architect, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

So, was the problem Ms Gillard, or would any woman in that role suffer the same fate? Her political opponents deny they are sexist. They point to Julie Bishop, for example, their Deputy Leader, as irrefutable evidence of their even-handedness in matters of gender. But, of course, she was Deputy when the Liberal leadership was declared vacant and she had so few supporters for the top job that she didn’t even bother to nominate. And when Julia Gillard was deputy, she too was very popular indeed.

It is here, I think, that we have the real evidence of sexism in politics. It has almost nothing to do with the individual woman seeking leadership. The real problem is with the rules of the game.

Our politics, like our law, was invented by men based on essentially male values. Men decide issues by confrontation. They glory in the adversarial contest. Their favourite sports are about conflict, with the prize going to the winner and the devil take the hindmost. There is no middle ground. Our politics is not the art of the possible; it’s the business of winning.

The only way that could change is if women became the majority in Parliament and rewrote the rules. In their system, confrontation would give way to genuine compromise. And in different circumstances Julia Gillard might have taken some steps towards that goal. But as bad luck would have it, her opponent – whose favoured sport is boxing – was Mr Testosterone himself. Confrontation was pure joy for him; and Ms Gillard was simply ill-equipped by nature to deal with him. It was like a left-handed person trying to play a game invented exclusively for right-handers. It just couldn’t work.

Some feminists believe there should be a quota providing 50 per cent women in our Parliament. It’s a nice, sensible idea. However, they are asking men to surrender the power they so patently relish. It’s just not going to happen. And Julia Gillard, it seems, has joined that list of women whose brief grasp of power revealed so clearly the handicap under which they operate.

www.robertmacklin.com

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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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